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Rescuers search for a 5-year-old swept away by floodwaters in California storms

Local resident Fidel Osorio rescues a dog from a flooded home in Merced, California, on Tuesday. Relentless storms were ravaging California again Tuesday.
Josh Edelson
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AFP via Getty Images
Local resident Fidel Osorio rescues a dog from a flooded home in Merced, California, on Tuesday. Relentless storms were ravaging California again Tuesday.

Updated January 10, 2023 at 9:19 PM ET

Rescuers resumed searching for a 5-year-old boy who was swept away in floodwaters as another powerful storm continues to batter California, with communities flooded, millions under flood warnings and power out for more than 100,000 customers in the state.

A search for the boy was called off after five hours on Monday because of dangerous water levels, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office said.

The boy's mother was driving a truck around 7:50 a.m. on Monday near San Miguel, a central town roughly 35 miles inland from the coast. The vehicle became stranded in floodwaters while trying to cross a river.

The mother escaped the truck with the help of bystanders, but the boy was swept downstream. A flash flood warning was later issued for the region.

A truck tows a car that got stuck in the mud as a result of San Ysidro Creek overflowing due to heavy rainfall in the area on Tuesday in Montecito, California.
Apu Gomes / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
A truck tows a car that got stuck in the mud as a result of San Ysidro Creek overflowing due to heavy rainfall in the area on Tuesday in Montecito, California.

A search for the boy on Monday — which involved 17 firefighters, professional divers and a helicopter — uncovered only his shoe, a Cal Fire spokesperson confirmed.

Rescuers restarted searching on Tuesday without success and will try again on Wednesday, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office said.

More than 100,000 residents are without power

Residents look towards a flooded roadway in Merced, California, as an "atmospheric river" continues on Tuesday.
Josh Edelson / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Residents look towards a flooded roadway in Merced, California, as an "atmospheric river" continues on Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the state, two people were killed by falling trees on Highway 99 on Tuesday, causing the collective death toll from the recent storms to climb to 17, according to The Associated Press.

As of Tuesday evening, more than 100,000 customers were without power, many of the outages caused by high wind speeds that sent trees crashing into power lines. School districts across the state closed on Tuesday as creeks overflowed, transforming roads into rivers riddled with debris.

The National Weather Service's Los Angeles office said on Tuesday afternoon that most of the heavy rain had passed from of its forecast area. Over two days, rainfall exceeded 13 inches in several parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Residents return after evacuations lifted for Montecito and Santa Cruz

An evacuation order was lifted on Tuesday for the wealthy enclave of Montecito, home to celebrities like Oprah and Prince Harry. But residents were warned to be aware of loose and falling rocks, landslides, wet roads and downed trees and power lines. Photos of Highway 101 in Montecito showed a light layer of mud covering much of the road.

Scars from recent wildfires still streak the community's surrounding canyons. Monday's evacuation orders came on the fifth anniversary of a mudslide that killed 23 people in the region.

Comedian and Montecito resident Ellen DeGeneres posted videos of the damage to social media on Monday, saying she was told to shelter in place given her house is on higher ground.

"This is crazy," she says, pivoting the camera to show rushing water. "This creek next to our house never overflows, ever. It's probably about nine feet up and it's going to go another two feet up."

In Los Angeles, four people escaped after a sinkhole swallowed two cars on Monday night, local media reported. Another sinkhole in Santa Barbara caused a road closure impacting 500 homes.

In this image taken with drone, a vehicle is stuck in a sinkhole in the Chatsworth section of Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Jae C. Hong / AP
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AP
In this image taken with drone, a vehicle is stuck in a sinkhole in the Chatsworth section of Los Angeles on Tuesday.

In Santa Cruz County, 250 miles to the north, roughly 32,000 residents were ordered to evacuate after the San Lorenzo River was declared at flood stage. Photos from the area showed homes and cars peeking out like islands from muddy brown water. Authorities lifted the order Tuesday afternoon but warned that "slides are still possible due to soil saturation levels."

President Biden issued an emergency declaration on Monday to bring federal support to relief efforts in more than a dozen counties.

More storms expected

A resident walks through a flooded neighborhood Monday in Guerneville, Calif. The San Francisco Bay Area continues to get drenched by powerful atmospheric river events that have brought high winds and flooding rains.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
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Getty Images
A resident walks through a flooded neighborhood Monday in Guerneville, Calif. The San Francisco Bay Area continues to get drenched by powerful atmospheric river events that have brought high winds and flooding rains.

This week marks the third in a row that relentless storms caused by atmospheric rivers have battered the coastal state. Nearly all of California has seen average rainfall totals 400-600% above their average values, the National Weather Service said.

Another atmospheric river is expected to hit the northern parts of the state on Wednesday, with precipitation spreading to the Pacific Northwest and continuing through Friday, the NWS said. Increased snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountains will also increase the risk of avalanches.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.
James Doubek
James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.